By Michelle Valerio • February 11, 2010•Writers in Residence
When I first started at my firm as a Summer Associate I was advised by one of the Senior Attorneys that the Managing Partner was concerned about hiring me because I was “too quiet”. I confronted him about this comment and he told me that did not feel that he could joke around with me. Being from the Northeast, I know am more reserved than many of my Miami counterparts, however, I was shocked when I realized that what I considered to be my professional demeanor was affecting my career.
In contrast, some of the Associates in my office have a very friendly joking relationship with the Managing Partner. The Managing Partner feels comfortable making fun of their weight, ex-boyfriends, children and sometimes even religion. In fact, the Managing Partner feels so comfortable that he will often make these jokes around clients, paralegals and attorneys from our other offices. As a result of this joking atmosphere the Associates sometimes retort with comments/jokes that the Managing Partner does not appreciate. When this occurs, the Associate will later get scolded that she is “too comfortable” or “unprofessional”. Naturally, the Managing Partner couches this criticism with an explanation that this is partially his fault because he needs to be more professional and that he sometimes forgets that he is the boss because thinks of us as his friends and family.
In fear of not getting an offer at the end of the summer, I tried to develop a more joking relationship with my boss and I have succeeded to some degree. However, since I witness on a daily basis the drawbacks associated with developing too comfortable of a relationship with the Managing Partner, I want to ensure that he continues to respect me as a professional.
Here are some tips for participating in office humor that I have picked up in the past few years:
Men feel very comfortable joking with each other and do not worry about making offensive comments but they are more cautious when making jokes towards women. You can establish your own boundaries by poking fun at yourself. This will let people know what they can feel comfortable teasing you about.
For example, I make fun of myself for reading all of the technology updates our IT Department sends us and now the Managing Partner makes fun of this as well.
Along the same lines, if your boss thinks it’s funny to make fun of you about something, and this topic does not offend you, let him know this by also making jokes about the topic.
For example, my boss thinks it’s funny to offer to buy me a hamburger since I am a vegetarian. Although this joke has gotten old fast, he likes it, so I play along.
Make jokes about celebrities, athletes or difficult clients, it’s easy for people to bond over these topics and difficult to offend anyone.
When the Managing Partner is making fun of other people, laugh and appear cooperative but do not participate in the jokes. If you do, you risk him blaming you for the joke or him referring to you as the office gossip when the person finds out about the comments.
If your boss makes a joke that does offend you, don’t be afraid to approach him about it and let him/her know. I did this with my Managing Partner once and he was (surprisingly) respectful and understanding.
While the Managing Partner certainly doesn’t joke with me on a daily basis (thankfully) I know he feels more comfortable with me. I also know that he would like to have a closer more joking relationship with me but I believe that if I let that happen he will lose his respect for me. If anyone has any more tips/advice I’d love to here them.